In the aftermath of the boycott of Qatar by Gulf Arab States and Egypt for its active support of terror groups in the region, and the charges that led to the rift, there is another bigger crime from which Doha cannot dodge.
It has been common knowledge that for the last two decades Doha has served as a hub for various terror groups and for their leadership to gather men and arms for which funding was given by the Qatari regime.
But how many know that among those who got sanctuary in Qatar was none other than the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks?
This has been revealed by Richard Clarke, the former US National Coordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations, in an article in the New York Daily News.
“Most people associate the name of Osama Bin Laden with the mass murders of 9/11, but another man, a serial terrorist, was the real ringleader. I first learned his name, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM), in 1993 as someone connected to the truck bomb attack on the World Trade Center. We later learned that he had an unparalleled ability to organize large-scale terrorist attacks, something bin Laden lacked,” writes Clarke.
A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. (File Photo: AFP)
What Clarke has revealed makes for a clearly unnerving read. Even the highest authority in Qatar cannot be trusted to give up their carefully cultivated actors in the terror game.
The mastermind in this case is Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, a Pakistani who grew up in Kuwait and studied in North Carolina for his undergraduate degree. After being involved in the New York attack, he resurfaced in Manila in 1995, and was behind another plot to bomb American planes over the Pacific.
With two major plots linked to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the US security establishment and political leadership by 1996 “considered him the most dangerous individual terrorist al large.”
With a sealed federal criminal indictment against him, it became urgently important for the US to locate this agent of terror immediately. They did find him – in Qatar working in the Water Department as a matter of official cover.
What should have been a straightforward arrest through the good offices of the government and local security services was not possible in the case of Qatar as the Americans knew that the Qataris were hand in glove when it comes to aiding terror operatives. More crucial here, the top terror sympathizer was a Cabinet member and from the royal family itself, who had ties to al-Qaeda and was the sponsor of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, whom the Americans wanted to apprehend.
In circumstances like this, the US had a system in place - to do an “extraordinary rendition,” meaning the snatch wanted person by an American ground team, to be immediately ‘exfiltrated’ to the US.
Americans hampered in Doha
But in this case, the American counter-terror panel was in a dilemma as the Americans had very rudimentary diplomatic and intelligence personnel at the time in Doha. The US Embassy was “only a little more than a small State Department office,” writes Clarke - with no FBI liaison office, no defense attaché, no CIA station.
The Pentagon had in similar situations in other countries been reluctant to get their hands dirty by snatching individuals in foreign environments. Clarke has also explained this attitude and writes that, “It is an understatement to say that before 9/11, the US military leadership was very reluctant to engage in counter-terrorism operations.”
In the case of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, finally the Clinton Administration decided to proceed in the only way that was possible at that time – by directly approaching the Qataris.
“To mitigate the risk inherent in that move, the US ambassador was asked to talk only to the Emir. He would ask the Emir to talk only to the head of the Qatari security service. The request was that they should grab KSM [Khalid Sheikh Muhammad] and hold him for a few hours until we could land an arrest team to fly him to the US,” writes Clarke.
But contarary to American wishes, within hours the US envoy had met the Emir with the request, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad had disappeared from Doha. To add insult to injury, the Americans were told that he may have left the country, without a clue to how he could have done that without official knowledge and connivance.
9/11 attacks, Pearl killing
Clarke comes to the crux and most chilling part at the end of his article when he lists the enormous damage and mayhem the followed this unscrupulous Qatari deceit.
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the terror mastermind, “went on to organize the 9/11 attacks, the Bali bombing in Indonesia, the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, and other terrorist attacks.”
Two years after 9/11, he was held in Pakistan by US agents accompanied by Pakistani officers, and is now lodged in Guantanamo military prison, Cuba.
“Had the Qataris handed him over to us as requested in 1996, the world might have been a very different place,” writes Clarke, as an epilogue to the tale of terror crafted by the highest powers in Qatar.